The righteous man perishes, and no man takes it to heart; and devout men are taken away, while no one understands. For the righteous man is taken away from evil, Isaiah 57:1 NASB
For – What are God’s warning signs? God always reveals what He will do through His prophets. He always provides evidence of His coming purposes – if we have the eyes to see. Rabbi Akiva read this verse and saw something. Perhaps we need to see with Akiva’s eyes before it’s too late.
Of course, one great difficulty is that we don’t read the verse in Hebrew. We read it in translation, and in this case, the translation keeps us blind. The Hebrew is mevin ki-mipnei ha-ra’ah ne’esaf ha-tzadik (“discerning because from the face of evil is gathered the righteous”). NIV and NKJV make the verse continuous (“no one understands that the righteous are taken”) where the NASB creates two sentences with essentially the same meaning. ESV and RSV follow NASB. The LXX says “no one takes notice, for the righteous man has been taken away from the presence of the unrighteous.” All of these translations provide a single connected thought; the blindness of the populace to the removal of the righteous. But this isn’t what Akiva saw. Akiva read the Hebrew particle ki as “because,” one of its usual senses. Since the Hebrew is without punctuation and the word order is not the same as English translations, Akiva saw the verse like this: “pious men are taken away and no one gives thought that because of evil the righteous man is taken.” Such a reading is entirely legitimate, but what a difference it makes! Akiva’s reading means that God takes the righteous out as a result of the presence of evil. In other words, as the world grows more and more evil, we discover that God is removing the righteous. As the next verse says, “They enter into peace and rest.” Before the worst comes, the righteous die and enter into shalom. But woe to those who remain!
Akiva lived during one of the greatest of the Roman pogroms. Roman torture was a finely crafted art rivaling anything devised by evil men. What Akiva saw was that the righteous men of his day died early in this horror. God removed them as things grew steadily worse. Isaiah the prophet told us it would be like this.
I often lament that today’s literature and music is vapid, tedious and unimaginative compared to the great literature and music of the past. That seems to follow course with a general decline in the culture, a loss of the sense of duty or heroism, replaced by a growing arrogance and an exploding self-centeredness. Culture reflects this inner decay. Os Guinness wrote a book recently called Unspeakable. He documents the fact that the last hundred years have been the most brutal and vicious century the planet has ever known. Apparently it isn’t just the culture that is in decay. Men are becoming animals at a faster and faster rate. And the righteous are being removed. Who is really replacing the great men of faith in our past? I am hard pressed to think of someone. I think it’s time to listen to Isaiah very carefully.
Topical Index: Akiva, Isaiah 57:1, ki, because